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Scientists warn investors on cacao company’s forest destruction in Peru

United Cacao's plantation area near Tamshiyacu, Peru
United Cacao’s plantation area near Tamshiyacu, Peru

A prominent group of scientists have sounded the alarm over forest clearing by a cacao company in the Peruvian Amazon.

In a statement issued Thursday, ALERT—the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers expressed concern over revelations that United Cacao (LON:CHOC), a company that recently raised £10 million ($15 million) in a public offering in London, has cut down more than 2,000 hectares of rainforest in Peru, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.

“World-class scientists at the Carnegie Institute at Stanford University and the Amazon Conservation Association have used satellite data and cutting-edge laser technologies to show that United Cacao has recently cleared more than 2,000 hectares of mostly old-growth rainforest in Peru,” said ALERT member Thomas Lovejoy, a scientist who set up the longest-running ecological experiment in the Amazon and has served as an environmental advisor to three U.S. presidents. “They did it very quietly and without conducting an environmental impact study. That sets a very dangerous precedent.”

Lovejoy and other ALERT members also cast doubt on United Cacao’s assertions that it is using “appropriate best practice” and embracing sustainability in its operations.

“There’s no way you can clear old-growth rainforest and then claim to produce sustainable cacao,” he said.

“We see a lot of green-washing among corporations today—where firms try to appear sustainable but really aren’t,” added ALERT member Lian Pin Koh, an associate professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia. “My fear, based on these recent findings of large-scale forest destruction, is that United Cacao is one of these green-washing corporations.”

Landsat imagery shows the deforestation that occurred on the Cacao del Peru Norte plantation between December 2012 and April 2014. Credit: Matt Finer, Amazon Conservation Association; Sidney Novoa, Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica; Clinton Jenkins, Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas. Click to enlarge.

Given these concerns, ALERT is urging investors to take a cautious approach before funding further expansion by United Cacao and its Peruvian subsidiary, Cacao del Peru Norte.

“Investors need to be sure that they’re putting their money into projects and corporations that are truly sustainable,” said ALERT director William Laurance, a professor at James Cook University in Australia. “Right now we have a lot of doubts about United Cacao.”

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